Lately - since the end of April, in fact - there has been an unexpected development. My family name (the one on my birth certificate) is Dommett. There it is: Lucy Dommett. A lady of my generation whose birth surname before marriage was also Dommett, stumbled on my blog and got in touch by email. We have been bouncing emails off each other ever since, and now we are going to meet up while I am on holiday. I am so looking forward to it.
I love Melford as a surname, but at heart I am a diehard Dommett and proud of it. It's so West Country. This lady clearly feels much the same. So we are now engaged in filling in bits of the Family Tree. Her side of the family has connections with Breamore in Hampshire and Tetbury in Gloucestershire, but further back it was Payhembury in Devon, just a few miles away from Kentisbeare, the HQ of my Dad's side of the family. There's got to be a link, a person in her family who connects with a person in mine. We are surely long-lost (but very distant) cousins.
Frustratingly, both of us have limited time and resources to throw at a deep genealogical search. Proving a connection requires a certain expenditure to get access to old records, buy copies of documents, and to personally visit graveyards and other places.
In my own case, not a lot can be done until later this year. But I had some 1881 Devon Census stuff, not so far much examined, and (at no cost) I've been able to go through that methodically. The lady has also been making efforts on her side. I think it's likely that we shall establish something rather interesting in the next month or two. If nothing else, she has spurred me on to look at material that I'd possessed since the year 2000 or earlier, but had not got around to analysing. We will now unearth an awful lot of dead Dommetts!
The pity of it will be that most of these forebears must remain just names and dates, their real lives irrecoverable. There will be very few photographs. My side of the family, before Dad came along, were not at all photo-minded. I have no shots of his mother, only one of his father, and nothing before them. Had the family been well-to-do townspeople, there would have been the usual Victorian and Edwardian studio portraits. But on my side they were humble country folk who wouldn't have thought it worthwhile to have their picture taken, and probably never encountered a photographer anyway. Life was very slow and backward in rural Devon before the First World War. On the lady's side, the family were skilled artisans and country house servants, and some photos may exist. She mentioned the likelihood, for instance, of discovering some male Dommetts in group photographs of the Breamore village cricket or football teams. (This is very like how a photo of one of M---'s aunts turned up, showing her in a Sussex Stoolball team)
It's not just this serendipitous contact with a like-minded Dommett that has got me researching in earnest. I promised my parents that I would get on with it once retired. Nine years into the said retirement, and nothing much had been done. Now I can fulfil the undertaking I gave to them. And I will push on with it, even if the lady and I can't prove a link between her set of Dommetts and mine. I like to do a proper job; and I won't give up filling in gaps in the Dommett Family Tree until all the ordinary lines of enquiry have been explored. And if I can't find a photograph of the living person, then there is always a shot to be taken of their gravestone, or the cottage they occupied. A great excuse for pottering around the countryside.
And - who knows? - one or two of them might have done or become something really unusual and noteworthy. Beyond being a locally important farmer, I mean. I hope so. I'd hate to think that nobody did anything unconventional until I came along! That would be a bit sad.